On August 2, the National Governors Association (NGA) convened in Wisconsin for their annual summer meeting. Each term, the NGA's chair determines an initiative for the group to work on. Outgoing NGA chair Governor Jack Markell (D-DE) has chosen as his initiative A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities. Noting that Americans with disabilities face "disproportionately high rates of unemployment" Markell says it is important to ensure that individuals with disabilities have "to the maximum extent possible, the same opportunities as all others do: to live close to family and friends; to live independently and in safe communities; to engage in productive employment; and to participate in community life."
At the meeting, Gov. Markell unveiled A Blueprint for Governors that pulls together information compiled from various events and meetings over the past year. According to Markell's statement "The initiative will provide governors and other state policymakers with better policy options to assess the environment in their state and strategies designed to support this population. A major emphasis will be on people who have significant intellectual and developmental disabilities and may require supports like job coaches and personal attendants in order to live and work in the community. We will convene governors, businesses, disability leaders and other thought leaders throughout the year to share ideas and move forward with support for this population."
The blueprint is organized into five topic areas designed to guide states in assisting businesses and provide governors examples of actions they can take in each area. The blueprint acknowledges that other policies such as health care, housing, and transportation affect employment for people with disabilities, but does not address those policies in depth. The five topic areas are:
- Make disability employment part of the state workforce development strategy. For many states, the first step has been to prioritize “employment as the first option” when designing policies, programs and investments to support the employment of people with disabilities. To date, more than 30 states have adopted Employment First strategies, which direct state policies and investments to prioritize employment for people with disabilities. Governors can make Employment First a priority by issuing an executive order or working with the state legislature to enact legislation to support it. Governors can also direct state agencies to align disability programs with workforce and economic development programs, track disability employment outcomes and make sure they are included with current workforce data collection, and focus on the business case when meeting with employers.
- Support businesses in their efforts to employ people with disabilities. Businesses are willing to hire people with disabilities, but they need a long-term partner. Governors can encourage state agencies to find more such businesses by dedicating staff with business expertise to work with employers, working with multiple businesses in a sector and including small businesses. Governors can provide leadership in building long-term partnerships with these business by directing state agencies to assign one point of contact from the state to work with employers over the long term, provide skills assessment and training, and navigate the complexities of benefits related to workers with disabilities.
- Increase the number of people with disabilities working in state government. Governors have a wide range of options for increasing the number of people with disabilities they employ, such as creating a fast-track hiring process for people with disabilities, focusing on retention of such employees and setting hiring goals. One key action is to set a state goal for hiring people with disabilities through an executive order and hold agencies accountable for achieving that goal.
- Prepare youth with disabilities for careers that use their full potential, providing employers with a pipeline of skilled workers. Governors can send a strong message to state agencies, educators, business, and parents on the importance of starting early to create the expectation that employment and a career is a goal for everyone, including youth with disabilities. The message would ensure that career readiness begins in kindergarten through 12th grade education and is supported at colleges and universities and as students transition to work. Research shows that early career awareness and work experience for youth are indicators of positive employment outcomes, particularly for people with disabilities.
- Make the best use of limited resources to advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Governors can act to secure additional resources and make the best use of them by directing agency heads to continuously review opportunities for federal support and the possibility of partnerships with federal agencies and the private and nonprofit sector.
“Employment is such a critical element in building a productive, meaningful life and individual self-esteem for all people, regardless of ability or disability,” said Renee Pietrangelo, ANCOR CEO. “As a founding member of the Alliance for Full Participation, ANCOR is committed to fostering integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We applaud the National Governors Association for this important document, which can go a long way toward making employment a reality for people with disabilities across the country.”